Breaking bad news in clinical setting - health professionals' experience and perceived competence in southwestern Nigeria: A cross sectional study

Document Type



Internal Medicine (East Africa)


Background: Communication skills are vital in clinical settings because the manner in which bad news is delivered could be a huge determinant of responses to such news; as well as compliance with beneficial treatment option. Information on training, institutional guidelines and protocols for breaking bad news (BBN) is scarce in Nigeria. We assessed the training, experience and perceived competence of BBN among medical personnel in southwestern Nigeria.

Materials and Methods: The study was a cross-sectional descriptive study conducted out among doctors and nurses in two healthcare institutions in southwestern Nigeria using an anonymous questionnaire (adapted from the survey by Horwitz et al.), which focused on the respondents training, awareness of protocols in BBN; and perceived competence (using a Five-Point Likert Scale) in five clinical scenarios. We equally asked the respondents about an instance of BBN they have recently witnessed.

Results: A total of 113 of 130 selected (response rate 86.9%) respondents were studied. Eight (7.1%) of the respondents knew of the guidelines on BBN in the hospital in which they work. Twenty-three (20.3%) respondents claimed knowledge of a protocol. The median perceived competence rating was 4 out of 5 in all the clinical scenarios. Twenty-five (22.1%) respondents have had a formal training in BBN and they generally had significant higher perceived competence rating (P = 0.003-0.021). There is poor support from fellow workers during instances of BBN.

Conclusion: It appears that the large proportion of the respondents in this study were unconsciously incompetent in BBN in view of the low level of training and little or no knowledge of well known protocols for BBN even though self-rated competence is high. Continuous medical education in communication skills among health personnel in Nigeria is advocated.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication ( Name of Journal)

Annals of African medicine